Are we all becoming distracted teenagers?

I was waiting to catch a plane recently, returning from a great day spent with English teachers in Texas. Sitting with my coffee, reading the latest New Yorker, I noticed a man around 50 shuffle into the lounge with a glass of wine and bag of nuts.

He pulled out a good novel that suggested he continued to challenge himself. He rummaged his serious Tumi briefcase and came up with the Wall Street Journal, some folders of work documents, his laptop, and, finally his cell phone.

He cracked a few nuts, enjoyed a sip of the red wine. He picked up the novel and settled down to read…for about ten seconds. Then he put it down. Picked up the phone. Called the wife. "Okay, honey, tell the girls I love 'em." Back to the novel….No: put it down, glanced the WSJ front page, picked up the phone. Called work. Reported the meeting, how it went. Sipped the wine. Wrapped up the call. Then was about to put down the phone but decided instead to call his mentor to tell him how he handled the meeting, ask his advice about how to follow up."So you think I did the right thing? I don't know…." They talked on. Then he checked his email. Then got and responded to a few text messages.

I sat there watching for maybe an hour. Total reading time: maybe five minutes. We talk about our concern about kids, young adults, the Always-on generation. The truth is, though, that this is increasingly all of us, and eventually will BE all of us.

In the Attention Economy, there is always something better about to come, always something more exciting going on where you are not. What will the next generation of learning look like? And will it lead kids to be as successful as the man in the airport who can enjoy the new literacies because he has mastered the old ones?

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2 Responses to “Are we all becoming distracted teenagers?”

  1. Jim,
    I read this yesterday (but got distracted) then read it again this morning.
    First time I read it I felt the jolt of recognition; the man in the airport behaves the way I sometimes feel, unable to settle to anything substantial because there are so many distractions. As someone wrote on Twitter yesterday, “Sometimes we all need to go into the woods like Thoreau. Facebook, twitter, and a lack of self discipline hinder this process.” Your sentence about us all becoming like this made me think again about the English Companion Ning discussion about slow deep reading and its importance.
    Then I read this again this morning and realized that I’d missed your point. You were saying that he could enjoy the new because he had mastered the old. This time through I noticed the enjoyment (the wine, the pace), the companionship (with wife and work mate). You were implying, I thought, that you could imagine him doing some deep reading later in the day.
    But what about our kids? Is the fast paced world too distracting? I’m not sure. Thanks (again) for good thought fodder.

  2. I’m not sure either, Steve, which was, as you suggest, my point. It’s a bit like Picasso who was a master first then could venture out, confident that he had the foundation to build on. Mark Bauerline argues in his new book The Dumbest Generation that people under 30 are only interested in knowing about the personal lives of their friends and the famous and not actually building knowledge or developing the skills needed to do important work, come up with new ideas. I guess we can only do what we will in our classrooms and hope for revelations on the part of our kids as they hit the sobering reality of the world that seems to get more real by the day.

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